MO­MEN­TUM FOR DEMOCRATS? The party shouldn’t as­sume suc­cess in the 2018 elec­tions

Democrats have been elated since last week’s wins in the Vir­ginia and New Jer­sey gov­er­nor’s races, their huge gains in the Vir­ginia leg­is­la­ture and smaller, no­table vic­to­ries na­tion­wide. So will con­gres­sional vot­ers in 2018 make Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump the fourth straight pres­i­dent to have his party lose con­trol of Congress while in of­fice?

Cit­ing his­tor­i­cally low polling num­bers for Trump and an en­er­gized Demo­cratic base, Demo­cratic po­lit­i­cal op­er­a­tives are hope­ful. Still, the GOP is po­si­tioned to re­tain the Se­nate. Democrats hold 25 of the 34 Se­nate seats that are up for grabs next year — 10 in states Trump won in 2016, five won by dou­ble dig­its.

The House is dif­fer­ent, though. Even if Trump were more pop­u­lar, Repub­li­cans were likely to strug­gle in 2018’s 435 House races to hold the 241 seats they won in 2016. The pres­i­dent’s party has a long tra­di­tion of do­ing poorly in midterm elec­tions — with an av­er­age loss of 24 seats over the last 60 years. That’s the same num­ber of seats Democrats need to pick up next year to re­take the House, and Roll Call’s anal­y­sis says 50 Repub­li­cans face close races as op­posed to only 14 Democrats who do.

But for three big rea­sons, Democrats shouldn’t as­sume 2018 will be their year.

The first is that if the econ­omy keeps grow­ing, the stock mar­ket keeps boom­ing and Repub­li­cans man­age to pass a tax-over­haul bill that truly does help the mid­dle class, that nar­ra­tive of­fers pow­er­ful cover for GOP in­cum­bents. This cover may be di­min­ished by the re­sults of the Rus­sia probe, new Trump scan­dals, war or ter­ror at­tacks, but a hum­ming econ­omy is a pow­er­ful po­lit­i­cal ad­van­tage.

The sec­ond is that Democrats are in the mid­dle of a civil war that has reached new heights in re­cent weeks with al­le­ga­tions by for­mer in­terim Demo­cratic Party chair Donna Brazile that the Demo­cratic Na­tional Com­mit­tee acted to help for­mer Sec­re­tary of State Hil­lary Clin­ton de­feat Ver­mont Sen. Bernie San­ders in the 2016 party nom­i­na­tion fight — a con­spir­acy the­ory that “Berniecrats” have long be­lieved. The same sort of pu­rity tests that cost Repub­li­can in­cum­bents their seats at the height of the Tea Party move­ment are likely in many Demo­cratic pri­maries, in­clud­ing Cal­i­for­nia. State Se­nate Pres­i­dent Pro Tem Kevin de León, for one, is chal­leng­ing Sen. Dianne Fe­in­stein on the grounds that she is in­suf­fi­ciently mil­i­tant in her op­po­si­tion to Trump and in her sup­port for progressive causes.

The third is that the Demo­cratic Party, like the Repub­li­can Party, is at a 25-year low in pop­u­lar­ity, ac­cord­ing to a CNN poll re­leased Tues­day. Just 37 per­cent of Amer­i­cans have a fa­vor­able view of the Demo­cratic Party — about the same as with Trump, but bet­ter than the GOP’s 30 per­cent. Amer­i­cans aren’t en­thu­si­as­tic about ei­ther party’s agenda.

The dis­con­tent on dis­play in U.S. pol­i­tics in re­cent years isn’t sub­sid­ing. What­ever hap­pens in the 2018 elec­tions, it’s likely that mil­lions of Amer­i­cans will still want to throw the es­tab­lish­ment bums out — no mat­ter who they are — in 2020. Un­til more Amer­i­cans be­lieve that Wash­ing­ton is look­ing out for them, topsy-turvy elec­tions are the new nor­mal.

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